Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor

Population Control
W. Jim Neidhardt 

Department of Physics
Newark College of Engineering 
Newark, New Jersey 07102

From: JASA 26 (September 1974): 132-133.

There has been much useful work in recent years attempting to a) predict the rate of future population growth and b) the impact of such growth on the quality of human existence. Such predictive attempts usually assume somewhat deterministic models of man's behavior patterns. Man is seldom viewed as a responsible, whole person capable of rising beyond the "machine" level of existence. Indeed, capable of making genuine free choices that will enable him to alter and adapt his environment in a manner that clearly respects and attempts to preserve the intrinsic goodness inherent in all of God's creation: other men, beasts, forests, plants, even inert rocks. Practically all such predictive models of the future assume as the central criteria for success the survival of the human species (with perhaps some measure of material comfort). Almost never, even by Christians (excepting F. Sehaeffer), is man's attempt to come to grips with his environment viewed from God's "eyes." This man-centered perspective that we adopt may blind us to possible hidden dangers in uncontrolled population growth. The following thoughts are accordingly directed toward this question: Are there hidden dangers inherent in uncontrolled population growth?

1. It may well be possible to truly feed an expanding world population in a nutritionally sound way. Much can be done to utilize presently untapped food resources and eliminate such inefficient food sources as cattle grazing on large land areas. We may have to learn to enjoy the taste of soy beans as much as that of beef. But, I believe that mankind (even Western man) is capable of this effort.

2. It may even he possible to supply an expanding world population's energy needs by utilization of yet untapped sources of energy. It is within the realm of finite probability that controlled thermo-nuclear fusion and/or the development of practical supercooductiog materials above liquid nitrogen temperatures may he possible before 2000 AD. Either of these two possibilities would improve the world's energy producing capacity by orders of magnitude. There may not even be appreciable pollution side effects associated with these two very different possible new sources of energy and energy transport. There is much that still can be done with respect to finding new sources of energy and conserving existing resources; it is at least in the realm of possibility that an expanding world population may be able to find the means to meet its energy needs.

3. The capability of uncontrolled population growth filling all available living space is the possible hidden danger. For in doing so the living area of humanity will become so cramped that individual privacy is no longer possible and man's living environment will become entirely artificial, i.e., man made.

Even in purely inanimate many-body interacting systems, crowding, due to an excess number in a given space, leads to qualitatively new behavior frequently destructive to the original system. When radioactive elements exceed a critical mass, nuclear fisson results; when a gas of interacting particles is sufficiently dense, transition to a new state of matter, the liquid state, is observed. Similar behavior is observed for living interacting systems, plant, animal, and human. Crowding often results in a whole species dying out due to adverse interactions with the activity of other populations once a critical crowding level is reached. Even at the level of human encounter, excessive crowding, with its resulting loss of privacy, becomes destructive to physical, mental, and spiritual well-being as the testimony of the daily rides of a crowded subway will easily confirm.

But, on a far deeper level, man is made in the image of a personal God who has made him so live in harmony with a created, physical order that is distinct from, but nevertheless bears the mark of God's creative personality as He continually holds it in being. If man, by allowing uncontrolled population growth to lead to excessive crowding, becomes completely immersed in an artificial, man-made environment he thereby loses a vital contact with the God who made him. For this new, artificial environment reflects hack upon man far too much of his own selfish ego. I am afraid, among other undedesirable features, such an environment will impose upon modern man the far too hectic pace and random chatter associated with the "busyness" of our get ahead at the others expense, selfish society. Man needs for his spiritual well-being time for reflective contemplation, immersed in an environment relatively untouched by human activity showing fully the majesty of a complex, interacting harmonious system that bears the mark of God's personal creativity. Is it not significant that David, Jesus, and Paul all withdrew from continual human encounter to a wilderness area, to pray, to rest, and renew their vital contact with the Living God, their Loving Father? Man encounters God in the love shown him by other fellow image bearers of God, but man's God-given nature also requires contemplative encounter with God through experiencing the beauty, majesty, and order present in that part of God's Creation untouched by man. Christians must strive to help the world meet its material needs or we are indeed hypocrites, but man does not live by bread alone. To allow population growth to stamp all of God's Creation with man-made structure is to wipe out a vital channel of communication with God, contemplative communion with God in a part of His environment untouched by human selfishness and pride. For in such places man can regain his ability to reflect upon his relation to God and to weigh carefully the alternatives in the difficult decisions life thrusts upon him. It is a strange paradox that man in order to prevent himself acting like only an animal must seek contemplative access to sheltered areas where animals live in relationship primarily to one another. The world still needs to pay heed to St. Francis's insight that God truly loves men but animals also; after all, He created them all.

4. I am in basic accord with those organizations that, recognizing the dangers of uncontrolled growth, attempt to motivate mankind to alter its child-producing patterns. Such motivation attempts should clearly point out the dangers of
Population crowding to the individual (in cultural context) as a whole person, not just to his or her material well-being. It should treat individuals in all cultures as capable of responsible choice and thereby attempt an educational approach that will meaningfully communicate to diverse populations the dangers of excess population. Man is both "brute and angel;" when he is respected as an individual be might just make the right choice in sufficient numbers to stem the population tide. God still works in human history. All volunteer methods of controlling population growth should be exhausted before any legal sanction against giving birth is put into force. And it is my view that any such legal sanctions should limit themselves to additional taxes, etc. Compulsory sterilization sounds tar ton much like Nazi Germany and ignores that only God is a true prophet of the future. Such sterilization on a worldwide scale might even lead to eventual dangers of under population.